The US Championships which open on Thursday (19 June) at Stanford University's Cobb Track will serve as the selection meeting for the entire US team which will compete at the IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Paris later this summer (23-31 August 2003).
But for the six individual US winners at the last World Championships in Edmonton, the road to a repeated win in Paris will be a rocky one.
For two of the Edmonton winners--100 metres queen Marion Jones and the surprise 100 Hurdles winner Anjanette Kirkland--participation is impossible, due to current and recent pregnancy considerations. Jones is still awaiting the birth of her first child next month, and Kirkland delivered a son in early May.
Although Maurice Greene has the only sub-10 time by an American so far this year, he looks far from the peerless sprinter of the past who has won five US sprint titles. He has already said he would probably make only a cameo appearance in the 100m,
running an early round and then exiting to concentrate on the 200m.
Even with a "wild card" invitation to Paris, Greene will need to watch out for the man who took his world record last year, Tim Montgomery, as well as J.J. Johnson and non-Americans Patrick Johnson of Australia and St. Kitts' Kim Collins.
Greene has the reputation of being a winner when the stakes are high, and Paris will be perhaps the biggest challenge of his career. Don't count him out, but expect more than just even money from the bookmakers just the same.
Allen Johnson also will be in Paris regardless of this weekend's outcome, but unlike Greene, he will contest his sprint Hurdles event to the end. His physical condition in mid-spring was
questionable as a calf injury kept him from a full schedule. A 13.20w win earlier this month would seemingly indicate that full fitness has returned, but Larry Wade looks poised to make a strong bid for his first national 110m Hurdles title.
At the Stade de France, Johnson will have to contend with Stanislav Olijar of Latvia - currently the world's fastest hurdler - plus Edmonton silver medallist (and Sydney winner) Anier Garcia of Cuba, as well as 19-year-old Chinese talent Liu Xiang. An uphill battle for the Atlanta Olympic champion, it would appear.
American shot putter John Godina also comes to Palo Alto in less than full health, the result of a weightlifting accident last autumn in which an Olympic barbell fell on his chest. He even admits that 2003 is a rebuilding year, in the hopes that he can "win it all" in 2004.
No one will argue that Kevin Toth is, for the moment, America's shot putter supreme after his herculean 22.67 in April. But a training-related finger injury in early June may keep him from launching another big throw this weekend. This would leave the door open for university student Christian Cantwell, whose splendid 21.56 PB last weekend was only overshadowed by the even bigger effort by British giant Carl Myerscough.
Moving on to Paris, Godina himself will frankly admit that the top step on the victory platform will likely feature a new face.
The final name on the list of US champions from Edmonton is Stacy Dragila, still the pre-eminent American female pole vaulter and, barring self-destructive forces, the likely winner in Palo Alto, the site of her still-standing world record in the event. But whereas Dragila had the stage practically to herself several years ago, she now must share it with others, as her European appearances the past several weeks have shown.
The adjustment period needed because of a recent coaching change may not yet be complete. But make no mistake, Dragila will be in Paris in August, giving the Russian pair of Svetlana Feofanova and Tatyana Polnova as big a push as possible.
Only two years after Edmonton, the landscape, from an American perspective, at least, has changed. What new names will emerge from this weekend in Palo Alto? And what will be their fortune later this year in the City of Lights?